By Rory Rhodes
Rhodes is a freelance writer who has called the Roanoke Valley home for 17 years.
When, as an American woman, I am frustrated by the fact that it’s the 21st century and we, a major global power, have yet to elect a woman as president, I take some solace in the fact that my gender (more than 50% of the population) is at long last swelling the ranks of local and national government. I can hope that 2020 will bring a regime change to what has largely been more than 200 years of male-dominated politics. I can imagine the day when a high school U.S. history class will exhume the narratives of people who didn’t make it into the books and tell the story of all of us, rather than a select group of wealthy white landowners.
I also can look with pride at the U.S. Women’s National Team, which has kicked soccer @$$ for several years now. I saw them during their 2015 Victory Tour in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a steamy summer day, and the reigning world champions held a friendly match at the decrepit 90-year-old Legion Field, known as the Old Gray Lady. It was a “record crowd” of 35,000 — the stands were about half full, and some of the seats were condemned — and they handily beat Haiti, who gamely substituted for the Australian team on strike for more pay. Neither the setting nor the exhibition seemed fitting for world champs, but the mere fact that it occurred at all was a step up from where women’s sports had been in previous decades.
After this week’s victories, it’s tempting to gloat about the American team’s prowess, even as I know that women’s soccer is only news here because men’s soccer is not. But a couple days ago I caught a snippet of a BBC radio program where a guest stated that in many countries, female soccer players are unpaid and often hold two jobs to make ends meet. We’ve heard that our USWNT players earn a quarter of what their male counterparts do, and we’ve heard the (usually male) counter argument that it has to do with the money they bring in—never mind the fact that women’s soccer brings in more revenue than men’s (http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/15102506/women-national-team-files-wage-discrimination-action-vs-us-soccer-federation).
Often that revenue statement is accompanied by some reference to women’s soccer being “boring” or “slow” compared to men’s soccer. I submit that if your idea of exciting sport is to see grown men flinging themselves to the ground in histrionics over a brush-by, then men’s soccer is probably for you. If you admire watching a player get clocked and then go on a few seconds later as if nothing happened, perhaps women’s soccer is a better bet.
In any case, I mean no disrespect to our phenomenal USWNT players — whose unsurpassed strength, skill, and style will encourage the next generation of soccer players — when I say that I hope for the day when all teams will have, if not equal talent, at least equal opportunity to reach their full potential, and enough compensation to make it their sole vocation. It feels gauche to celebrate victory over a team whose players have sacrificed family, livelihood, and even defied the law to go head to head against the greatest power on the globe — even if we can’t get a woman into office. Perhaps one of our soccer players will score that final goal.